New DNA Evidence Exonerates, Frees Two North Carolina Inmates After 30 Years in Prison

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Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Sept. 2 2014 6:37 PM

New DNA Evidence Exonerates, Frees Two North Carolina Inmates After 30 Years in Prison

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Two North Carolina men are freed from prison.

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Henry Lee McCollum, and his half-brother, Leon Brown, have been in a North Carolina prison for 30 years. McCollum, who faced the death penalty, was the state’s longest serving death row inmate; Brown was looking at life behind bars. On Tuesday, both men were exonerated and ordered to be freed from prison by a North Carolina judge after new DNA evidence confirmed the two were not responsible for the 1983 rape and murder of an 11-year-old girl. McCollum was 19 years old, and Brown 15 years old, at the time of their arrest.

Here’s more on the stunning reversal from the Associated Press:

Lawyers for the men petitioned for their release after DNA evidence from a cigarette butt recovered at the crime scene pointed to another man. That man, who lived close to the soybean field where the dead girl's body was found, is already serving a life sentence for a similar rape and murder that happened less than a month later… Attorneys said both men have low IQs and their confessions were coerced after hours of questioning. There is no physical evidence connecting them to the crime.
Family members for the men gasped and some sobbed as the judge announced his decision to the packed courtroom. Brown smiled and shook a defense lawyer's hand and McCollum looked spent and relieved.
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McCollum, now 50 years old, and 46-year-old Brown, will be freed from prison as soon as the release is processed. “The current district attorney, Johnson Britt, did not contest the motion to dismiss the charges and said he would not attempt to reprosecute the men because the state ‘does not have a case,’ ” according to the New York Times.

Elliot Hannon is a writer in Washington, D.C. Follow him on Twitter.

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